In a post earlier this week I questioned whether U.S. efforts at public diplomacy were best served by having our Undersecretary of State, Karen Hughes, travel to Central America at a time when America’s image continues its decline not only in the Muslim world, but also in Europe. The revelations that the CIA is not only operating secret prisons in our allies’ territories but also using their airports as transit hubs to “render” terrorism suspects have caused quite a stir in Europe (and to some degree at home), so it would have been natural to expect Ms. Hughes’ public diplomacy efforts to be directed to where there’s trouble. Evidently not, for Karen’s boss, Condoleezza Rice, is going to tackle the problem head on next week on a trip to Europe.
The Bush administration seems to have decided that diplomacy is for wimps, and on her trip, rather than try to explain or excuse our behavior, Condi will simply tell the leaders of the old countries to “back off” and just stop criticizing the U.S. and its policies. Sounds like a plan, doesn't it? We are, after all, the world’s only superpower and since we’re fighting the perpetual “war on terror”, everybody has to come on board. Or in Mr. Bush’s words, “you’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists.”
It must be hard for the Bush administration to understand why the Europeans, unlike the U.S. government, can’t seem to control (or at least manipulate) either their media or public opinion in their countries. According to State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, "it is the responsibility, also, of governments to explain as clearly as possible to their publics and publics around the world what it is that they are doing in fighting the war on terrorism," something the administration obviously feels the Europeans haven’t been doing, and something that Ms. Rice will apparently insist they do in her forthcoming trip. (Perhaps European governments can borrow a page from the U.S. Army manual on PR.)
Condoleezza Rice’s new tough approach to those irritating Europeans who dare question our methods in the “global war on terror” is unlikely to succeed for obvious reasons, but since the State Department is going ahead with it anyway, can Karen Hughes go home now?